Interview with Phillippe Diederich and Giveaway

fireToday we welcome Phillippe Diederich as he shares his newest book Playing for the Devil’s Fire which we reviewed here.

 

Thirteen-year-old Boli and his friends are deep in the middle of a game of marbles. An older boy named Mosca has won the prized Devil’s Fire marble. His pals are jealous and want to win it away from him. This is Izayoc, the place of tears, a small pueblo in a tiny valley west of Mexico City where nothing much happens. It’s a typical hot Sunday morning except that on the way to church someone discovers the severed head of Enrique Quintanilla propped on the ledge of one of the cement planters in the plaza and everything changes. Not apocalyptic changes, like phalanxes of men riding on horses with stingers for tails, but subtle ones: poor neighbors turning up with brand-new SUVs, pimpled teens with fancy girls hanging off them. Boli’s parents leave for Toluca and don’t arrive at their destination. No one will talk about it. A washed out masked wrestler turns up one day, a man only interested in finding his next meal. Boli hopes to inspire the luchador to set out with him to find his parents.


What would you like us to know about Playing for the Devil’s Fire?

I was attempting to write an entertaining story that also showed the problems rural Mexican’s are experiencing with the violence of the narcos and the corruption of officials. The one thing I didn’t want to do was preach to anyone. My hope is that the book is an engrossing read for young and old alike.

Your first novel Sofrito was for adults. What led you to writing for a younger audience? Were there major differences in your writing experience with a younger main character?

Sofrito was my first novel. The first draft was completed many years ago. That story was born of a nostalgia for Cuba where I have been spending a lot of time back inn the 1990s. Playing for the Devil’s Fire was born out of a similar nostalgia, but this time it was for Mexico, where I grew up. I was not really approaching the book as a young adult book. I was just writing a coming of age story in this violent and difficult scenario. One of the issues with a young main character, especially one that is the ‘voice’ of the novel, is that you have to temper your literary impulses. By this I mean that a 12 or 13 year old boy is not going to speak like a 40 something writer. You have to be absolutely faithful to your character and let him narrate the way he would narrate. In other words. I didn’t  write the book Boli, the main character of my story, did. I prepared for this by writing a number of coming of age stories before attempting the novel.

Your main character, Boli, is a reminder that children are resilient. I appreciated his ability to maintain hope in spite of the many horrors happening in his community and family. How did this character come about for you?

Like I said, I had written a number of short stories where I had sensitive and resilient characters in a world that does not appreciate that personality type. I also drew heavily on my own experiences, growing up in the outskirts of Mexico City with a band of boys running wild and without supervision. We were between ages 8 and 15. There are a lot of dynamics in a group like that. But Boli is his own self. As I developed the story he came alive and led the way. I always try and listen to my characters. Boli told me what to do.

Are there reflections of your own childhood hidden within the pages of the book?

As I mentioned above, some of the main character and the dynamics of the young people in the novel are rooted in part in my experiences growing up in Mexico. Just like the scene in the ravine and they find the wreck of an old car, I experienced that with my friends while exploring the ravines around our neighborhood. The fair, the poor neighborhoods, the dynamics of the Devil’s Fire marble, it all comes from something I experienced in my youth.

Are you still a lucha libre fan? Do you have an all-time favorite wrestler?

I am not longer a huge fan. But I like lucha. I don’t follow it. I like the small affairs in Mexico or even here in the states, when the luchadores are not big names and the ring is set up in a street fair or a small auditorium. It’s more intimate. I grew up with the lucha movies. And the scene where Lucio tells Boli that he met Mil Mascaras happened to me when I was on a tour of Churubusco studios with my father. It was pretty cool.

Did your life as a photographer help to prepare you as a writer?

I think it did. First of all I am told I write visually. And no doubt that comes from my experience as a photographer. Also, being a photojournalist allowed me to travel extensively and to meet people I would have otherwise not met. I was a very shy kid and even as a young photographer, I was petrified of approaching people I didn’t know, but I also believed in facing my fears. My work as a photojournalist allowed me to break that. It gave me license to walk up to people on a street corner and start talking to them, ask questions, learn what their situation was.

Which writers have inspired you?

I think John Steinbeck is my biggest inspiration. I find his work very humanistic. His empathy toward his characters is amazing. I think he inspires my stories and my characters. I also admire the work of Earnest Hemingway because of his style and he was probably the writer whose work brought me into reading a lot. I think that without For Whom The Bell Tolls, I would not be a writer because that book started me back on reading obsessively. There are a lot of other writers like Cormac McCarthy and Junot Diaz. I am very eclectic. I like good stories and writing that allows me to forget that I am reading a book.

Have you read any young adult books lately that you would recommend?

I read Gabi: A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quinetro at the recommendation of my editor at Cinco Puntos Press. I think it’s a great book. Drown by Junot Diaz is not a young adult book, but it has a young protagonist in most of the stories and I think it is the kind of book young Latinos would enjoy. Anything by Sherman Alexie and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. I read those with my son and we were both very entertained.

 


phillippe
Phillippe Diederich was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Mexico City and Miami. His parents were forced out of Haiti by the dictatorship of Papa Doc Duvalier in 1963. As a photojournalist, Diederich has traveled extensively through Mexico and witnessed the terrible tragedies of the Drug Wars.

To learn more, visit other stops on the blog tour:

Sept 1: The Pirate Tree review & interview

Sept 4: Guest Post for Clear Eyes, Full Shelves

Sept 5: Review, The Brain Lair

Sept 6: Rich in Color author interview (http://richincolor.com)

September 7: Edi Campbell CrazyquiltEdi review (https://campbele.wordpress.com)

September 8: Anastasia Suen, #KidLitBookoftheday (asuen.com)

September 9: Reading Through Life author highlight plus links to blog tour  (http://readingtl.blogspot.com)

Sept 9: Guest Post, The Brain Lair (http://www.thebrainlair.com)

Sept. 12: Linda Washington (https://lmarie7b.wordpress.com/)

Sept. 13: Excerpt, review and guest post at Mom Read It (https://momreadit.wordpress.com/)


If you are interested in reading the book, you have an opportunity to win a copy. Only those with a U.S. mailing address are eligible for this drawing.

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Interview with Lita Hooper

Everyone, please welcome Lita Hooper to Rich in Color! Lita’s novel, Running Away to Home, is out today. Running Away to Home focuses on a pair of twin sisters and their father in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina:

rath-coverHow do you find your way home when your home no longer exists? For 17-year old twin sisters Sammie and Ronnie and their father, Willis, the answer to that question becomes a life raft when they are displaced after Hurricane Katrina.

Identity….Fear….Family

Running Away to Home, a YA verse novel, tells the story of two brave sisters, a repentant father, and the amazing triumphant spirit of familial love.

Loss.…Memory….Family

After leaving New Orleans for Atlanta, Ronnie and Sammie are separated and find themselves living in different parts of the city. Each sister is lured by false promises of love and security as they initially believe the people they encounter.

Love….Change….Family

As a YA verse novel, this story relies on poetry to express the intimacy of sisterhood and the triumphant spirit of its characters. Older YA readers will be moved by this family’s journey in the wake of one of the most memorable historical events our nation has experienced.

Spirit….Strength….Family

Today, Lita has stopped by to talk about Running Away to Home and to give away five copies to our readers! The giveaway is open to those with U.S. mailing addresses. Don’t forget to enter the drawing at the end of the interview!


What drew you to write about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina? Why did you decide to write about it in verse?

I remember being so overwhelmed with emotion when it happened. The thought of being separated from family members is really devastating to me, so as I watched the media coverage on television, that’s all I could think about. How could people find one another? This is has happened to the black family throughout history. During Reconstruction, newly freed black men and women sought family members throughout the South. During the Great Migration, families were torn apart by a need to find employment in the North. I wanted to give voice to this experience and because I am primarily a poet, verse seemed natural. I like persona poems, so this project fit nicely with what I was already doing.

Tell us more about Sammy, Ronnie, and their relationship with each other and their father.

Well, the girls are really interesting to me because I’ve always been fascinated by twins. I thought about how a teenager would feel during this really emotional time and how he or she would deal with the trauma of losing a home and being displaced. That’s when I decided to give to very different perspectives…to work with twin protagonists. I think the girls are very strong but they don’t know how strong they are until the storm changes their lives. I think they’re both very vulnerable but in different ways. Sammie is very simplistic in the way she approaches her survival. She has something to prove to her sister and father, so she takes advantage of being displaced to become the “strong” twin. Ronnie needs to be cared for, something she has longed for since her mother died. She loves her family but doesn’t know how to put herself first. The girls love their father, but when the storm hits, the family was really dysfunctional. The storm changes everything. Literally.

The search for home and family is an essential part of RATH. Why were you excited about these themes?

“Home” has a broad meaning, and I was interested in delving into the layers….I wanted to play around with the idea of running away from one thing in order to find oneself back home. Teenagers always run away from home in YA books. I was interested in creating characters who wanted to return. Being home was so much more than just being in their home town. It was reconnecting with family and fully understanding how fortunate they were. It was about trusting the voice inside, even when others doubted them, and being guided back to where they belonged. I find the idea of family and geographic location interesting because I have always wanted to move and live in a variety of places. Even as a child, I wanted to relocate every few years, but my friends always thought that was odd. In a way, this book is a personal exploration of why traveling and relocating are important to me.

What are you proudest of in RATH? What did you learn while writing it?

I’m proud that I finished my first YA verse novel! The genre is really exciting to me. I never saw myself entering this space, but after reading Make Lemonade by Virginia Wolff, I was hooked. I have been a poet for many years, but I found that book when putting together a list of books for my son’s homeschool reading assignments. Boy, that was a game changer. So RATH is always going to be special to me because it represents my first attempt at YA and at the verse novel.

Are there any other novels in verse that you would recommend to a YA audience? Do you have any recommendations for teens who are looking to learn more about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath?

I like the entire series by Wolff (Make Lemonade, True Believer and This Full House). I also really love the character-driven Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (a classic verse novel), and Andrea Davis Pinkney’s beautiful simplicity in The Red Pencil. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is just amazing and so important given the times we are in, and Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall is filled with gorgeous verse. I would recommend teens watch Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Parts. It’s a documentary about Katrina. The footage and interviews are amazing though heartbreaking.

What books by or about people of color or people from First/Native Nations are you looking forward to this year? Or that have already come out this year?

I’m planning to read Erin Schneider’s Summer of Sloane, Aditi Khorana’s Mirror in the Sky, and Mia Garcia’s Even if the Sky Falls. So many great books!


Thank you, Lita! If you like what you’ve heard about Running Away to Home, you can now enter to win a copy of the book. Only those with U.S. mailing addresses are eligible for this drawing.

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lita_hooper
Lita Hooper is a poet and YA author whose young characters are challenged but triumphant in the wake of historic events. Her work has been published in various journals, magazines, and online publications. She is the author of Thunder in Her Voice: The Narrative of Sojourner Truth (Willow Books). When she’s not writing, taking pictures, or traveling, she teaches writing and designs online courses.

 

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Interview: LJ Alonge

Justin BlacktopEveryone, please welcome author LJ Alonge to Rich in Color!

LJ is the author of the Blacktop series, which centers on the lives of different teens and the troubles they face both on and off the basketball court. The first two books in the series are about Justin and Janae, and we’re excited to learn more about them.

If you’re looking for even more sports-themed YA books to add to your collection, consider sticking this series at the top of your to-read list!


What were you most excited about when writing the first two books in the Blacktop series?

I’m really, really excited to challenge the way we think about athletes. Our sports heroes are often made one-dimensional; if you’re a basketball player, fans typically don’t want you to be anything else. And because so many popular athletes are people of color, there’s an unspoken message about what it means to be black or brown: we’re only allowed to be one thing. If we love basketball, we’re not allowed to love philosophy because…that’s weird? The whole one-dimensional thing doesn’t make much sense. A few years ago, I remember people being shocked (shocked!) that LeBron James read books during the playoffs. But of course he reads books! He’s not a basketball-playing cyborg; he’s a person with a variety of interests.

So writing the first two books was so much fun because I got to write about kids we don’t normally think of as basketball players: gamers, extreme introverts, activists, suppliers of fake-magic, former child TV stars. I wanted to watch them bring all of their experiences and talents and weirdness to the court and write about what happened.

I saw on your Amazon profile that you’ve played—and learned a lot from—basketball. What did you pull from your own basketball experience for the Blacktop series?

A lot of times, games aren’t really about the final score. They’re about friendship or love or courage or forgiveness or even pettiness. Sometimes, you can have a whole conversation in a game and not say a word. When I was a kid, I’d play basketball with my dad on the weekends, and the games were never about winning or losing. If I was mad at him, I would take cheap shots at his ribs. If he was mad at me, he’d post me up really aggressively. But if we liked each other, we just fooled around. The game was just a conduit for our emotions.

Tell us more about Justin and Janae! What do you find most compelling about each of them?

It’s kind of funny that Justin and Janae end up on the same team because they are so, so different. It wouldn’t surprise me if they actually hated each other in some alternate universe. In Book 1, Justin’s just had a life-altering growth spurt. Normally, he’s a gamer and bookworm, happy to daydream at home, but now that he’s tall he wants a new identity. Except he has no idea what that identity should be. A basketball player? A “cool kid”? Savior of the neighborhood? I often found myself rooting for Justin, because he’s such a sweet kid, but then I’d get annoyed at how hard he was trying to be things he wasn’t. He’s kind of lost his sense of self, and he spends Book 1 trying to find it.

Janae BlacktopJanae couldn’t be more different. She knows exactly who she is (a bad-ass basketball player) and what she wants (to play college basketball). She’s dedicated her whole life to hoop and has gotten really good and beating boys who underestimate her. But one day her dreams are crushed, and she has to figure out what to do with her life. What will she do without basketball? I know so many people like Janae, who have their dreams dashed and then have to work to find a new dream. Sometimes I hated watching her go through all of her challenges, but I also liked watching her figure things out and become a better person.

I saw in your Penguin Teen interview that you are working on the next book in the series. Can you tell us a little more about Frank and the challenges he will face?

Frank’s always in some kind of trouble. Until recently, it’s been small stuff – tagging, cutting class, stealing. He’s often angry and he doesn’t know why. But he’s just gotten into some big trouble and, because the judge was lenient, Frank’s decided to clean up his act. Except everyday seems to present a new opportunity to slip back into his old, troublemaking self and he doesn’t know what to do. Meanwhile, he falls in love unexpectedly. Because he considers himself a lady’s man, he doesn’t know how to deal with all the emotions that come with love. It’s all new territory for Frank – being a good guy, being in love – and Book 3 is the story of him trying to navigate it.

What are some of your favorite sports-themed books and movies that you would recommend to teenagers?

Hoop Dreams – Maybe one of the best movies of all time, sports or not. It’s an eye-opening documentary about the struggle of two teenagers from Chicago who dream of becoming college basketball players. It was the first movie that showed me how hard it really is to “make it.”

When We Were Kings – I cry every time I watch this documentary. It’s the story of Muhammed Ali and George Foreman’s famous Rumble in the Jungle in 1978. I was 12 or 13 when I watched it, and besides learning about the fight, I learned elements of black history I never knew, like Ali’s activism, and James Brown’s music and even some of the political history of the Congo.

No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson – As a kid, Iverson was one of my favorite basketball players, but this documentary focuses on a fight he had in high school, before he became a global celebrity. It insightfully discusses race, class and the criminal justice system.

Do you think you will stick with sports-themed books or are you interested in experimenting with other genres?

Running out of space, but yes I plan to write other genres! I’m working on some short stories/novel about…I don’t really know what they’re about yet. Mostly immigration, family, love and loss. There’s probably gonna be fantasy in there, somehow. Basic story stuff, I guess.

What books by or about people of color or people from First/Native Nations are you looking forward to this year? Or that have already came out this year?

Helen Oyeyemi’s What Is Not Your Is Not Yours and Mariko Tamaki’s Saving Montgomery Sole look amazing. I’m trying to get into fantasy, magical realism and the paranormal, so I’m pretty juiced about these. And Meg Medina’s Burn Baby Burn is set in NYC in the summer of 1977, and the idea of disco balls and bell bottoms on fire has me all kinds of excited.


FullSizeRenderLJ Alonge has played pick-up basketball in Oakland, Los Angeles, New York, Kenya, South Africa and Australia. Basketball’s always helped him learn about his community, settle conflicts, and make friends from all walks of life. He’s never intimidated by the guy wearing a headband and arm sleeve; those guys usually aren’t very good. As a kid, he dreamed of dunking from the free throw line. Now, his favorite thing to do is make bank shots. Don’t forget to call “bank!” You can connect with him on twitter @lanre_ak.

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Interview with Kimberly Reid

Everyone, please welcome Kimberly Reid to Rich in Color! Kimberly’s new book, Perfect Liars, came out last week from Tu Books, and we’re very excited to chat with her about it. Perfect Liars sounds like a great summer read–is it on your to-read list yet?

Perfect LiarsAndrea Faraday is junior class valedictorian at the exclusive Woodruff School, where she was voted Most Likely to Do Everything Right. But looks can be deceiving. When her parents disappear, her life—and her Perfect Girl charade—begins to crumble, and her scheme to put things right just takes the situation from bad to so much worse. Pretty soon she’s struck up the world’s least likely friendship with the juvenile delinquents at Justice Academy, the last exit on the road to jail—and the first stop on the way out.

If she were telling it straight, friendship might not be the right word to describe their alliance, since Drea and her new associates could not be more different. She’s rich and privileged; they’re broke and, well, criminal. But Drea’s got a secret: she has more in common with the juvie kids than they’d ever suspect. When it turns out they share a common enemy, Drea suggests they join forces to set things right. Sometimes, to save the day, a good girl’s gotta be bad.


1. What were you most excited about when writing Perfect Liars? How is Perfect Liars different from your Langdon Prep series? What was your favorite part about each work?

I enjoyed writing a cast of ex-juvie kids deemed “bad” by society working together to save their tiny part of it by applying the very skills that earned them that status.

The Langdon Prep series and Perfect Liars both have strong female leads dealing with class, wealth and privilege, but from different sides. Chanti Evans in Langdon Prep has none of these things when she begins attending a school where everyone else does. It’s the reverse situation in Perfect Liars, where Andrea Faraday has is it all when she’s thrown together with kids who have nothing, not even their freedom in some cases. Drea and Chanti approach crime-solving and how they see the world from very different perspectives, though they ultimately want to help people who have less than they do.

In the Langdon Prep books, my favorite thing is Chanti—I love her ferocity, how protective she is of her friends, family, and neighborhood despite their faults. I love that she has moments of self-doubt as we all do, but she plows ahead, anyway. She has far more confidence than I did as a sixteen-year-old. My favorite thing about Perfect Liars was writing Drea’s crew of characters. They’re criminals, but they have moments when they want to do what’s right, even while the temptation to do bad is difficult to resist. I like the way a common enemy brings them together despite their differences. When I see readers use #squadgoals when discussing Perfect Liars, it makes me smile.

2. I saw on your Tu Books bio that your mother is a homicide detective and your husband runs a city courtroom. How did those things influence Perfect Liars?

So, so much. As a kid, I grew up around cops because my mother was a police officer. She later became an investigator for the district attorney’s office and eventually married my stepdad, a public defender, so the justice system—both the prosecution and defendant side of it—helped shape my perspective from a young age. The trend continued in my adulthood when I worked in the software business providing services to police departments. My husband worked for the police before moving to the courts. In fact, I was picking him up from work one day when I got the idea for Perfect Liars. I noticed all these teens hanging around his building. He told me there was an alternative high school housed in the justice center, that the juvie court judge was also the school’s co-principal, and that some of the kids had been through the detention system. I knew immediately this would be the setting of my next non-Langdon Prep book.

3. Andrea sounds like such an interesting protagonist! Can you tell us more about her? What did you enjoy most about writing her?

My favorite thing about Drea is how her new friends—though she’s initially reluctant to call them that—make her question her belief system and prejudices. She may be a brown girl, but her wealth and class afford her some privilege that the juvie kids don’t have, even Jason, the white boy in the crew, to some extent. These kids unknowingly teach her lessons that challenge her to change, and to realize she has more in common with them than she’s willing to admit.

4. I’m interested in learning more about the kids Andrea teams up with at the Justice Academy. Can you give us a sentence or two about each of them?

Gigi is wise beyond her years, brilliant with languages (she’s fluent in eleven of them), and could convince you the sky isn’t blue even while you’re staring at it. She knows her mind and will suffer no fools—she ain’t got time for that. Jason can hack anything tech but is clueless when it comes to people, or so it seems. His appearance can deceive—he’s the youngest of the crew and baby-faced, but is perpetually angry at the world because it has been hard on him and he resents that. Xavier is calm and always in control, even though he’s had more heartache in his seventeen years than anyone should. He’s very good at reading people and situations, but you can’t be fooled by his zen-like approach to life because he can also jack someone up if the situation calls for it.

5. What are some of your favorite books? Have any of them inspired or influenced your writing?

The minute I could string a sentence together, I began writing poems, and I still love poetry, but the first book I can remember reading that made me want to be a novelist is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I was about ten or eleven, and didn’t really understand all the themes, but despite it being set in the early twentieth century in a world that had nothing to do with me, and included the bigotry of the time, I connected to Francie Nolan. It impressed me that the author could do that, make up people that felt real enough that I was convinced I knew them, and I wanted to do that, too. In high school, I was influenced by John Steinbeck and Jane Austen—they may be part of the reason I tend to write about class so often. In college, I discovered the work of Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Ernest Gaines. Favorite writers now include a range from Edwidge Danticat to Lee Childs to Chang Rae-Lee to Walter Mosley. I don’t think I write like any of them (I wish!), but they all inspire my writing because I want to write characters my readers connect with, and stories my readers thrill to, the way their characters and stories do for me.

6. What books by or about people of color or people from First/Native Nations are you looking forward to this year? Or already came out this year?

I have a lot of YA on the list. Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee. Shiny Broken Pieces by Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra. Even if the Stars Fall by Mia Garcia. Keep Me in Mind by Jaime Reed. Shame the Stars by Guadalupe Garcia McCall. I’m looking forward to the third book in Joseph Bruchac’s Killer of Enemies series, Valynne Maetani’s next book, and The Hate U Give by Angela Thomas. Some of these may not be out until next year—I’m not sure—but I look forward to them all.


ReidKimberly Reid is the author of the Langdon Prep young adult mystery series starting with My Own Worst Frenemy, and the Colorado Book Award winning memoir No Place Safe. Most of Reid’s family is in the crime-fighting business—her mother was a homicide detective, and her husband runs a city courtroom—so she can’t help but write crime fiction, knowing she’ll never run out of stories. She currently lives near Denver, Colorado, but her roots are firmly planted in Georgia clay and she still calls Atlanta home.

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Author Interview: Erika Wurth

crazy

Today we are happy to welcome Erika Wurth, author of Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend. It’s a highly recommended book that we recently reviewed here recently. Erika teaches creative writing at Western Illinois University and she’s been a guest writer at the Institute of American Indian Arts. She’s Apache/Chickasaw/Cherokee and was raised outside of Denver.

Summary via publisher: Margaritte is a sharp-tongued, drug-dealing, sixteen-year-old Native American floundering in a Colorado town crippled by poverty, unemployment, and drug abuse. She hates the burnout, futureless kids surrounding her and dreams that she and her unreliable new boyfriend can move far beyond the bright lights of Denver that float on the horizon before the daily suffocation of teen pregnancy eats her alive. Filled with complex characters overcoming and being overcome by circumstances of their surroundings, Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend thoroughly shakes up cultural preconceptions of what it means to be Native American today.

Interview: From the first chapter, I cared about Margaritte. Though on the surface our lives look very different, I connected with her almost immediately and her voice drew me completely into the story. Could you tell us a little about how Margaritte came to life in your mind?

Marguerite is a compilation of my best friend growing up, my sister, me and many voices of the girls that I knew growing up right outside of Idaho Springs (I grew up right outside of Denver, between Evergreen and Idaho Springs and was bussed to school to Idaho Springs). I, like many kids, read (though I was kind of alone in my reading habits growing up) mainly genre fiction, in my case fantasy and some sci-fi and some horror – and a lot of it is written from third person omniscient perspective – so that’s what I wanted to write in initially. But Margaritte’s voice came over me one day, when I was 24 – and it became a short story of the same title (except I pushed Crazy and Horse together, because that’s what people had done to Lakota people that I had grown up with) and I realized later that many of the people that I grew up with have these really bombastic and unique ways of speaking that only first person point of view could capture.

Throughout the novel, characters are struggling as they face poverty, addictions, violence and questions of identity. Futility is a word that comes up, yet Margaritte and others are still able to maintain hope. That is what I will remember most about the book – that resiliency and hope for the future. Are you generally a person that sees the glass as half-full?

I’m not somebody who shies away from darkness but what I struggled with was trying to show something realistic while at the same time not reinforcing the idea that just because you’re not from a white middle-class suburban background or from a wealthier background, that you deserved the life you were born into.

Identity, stereotypes, and how people define themselves and others are important themes in the book. What led you to explore these themes?

I think that if you’re native and honestly in my opinion if you’re anything you’re forced to work out those things (even if you’re not conscious of this process), identity or stereotype every day. If you’re native though, people confront you very loudly and consistently with how you should look or where you should live or what your life should be like and so you end up having to talk about your identity. There’s tremendous energy around a fantasy pan-Indian Native American, some mythical creature who is really super authentic and whether you’re from a reservation or an area like mine where a lot of native people live I don’t think you’re going to fit into that fantasy. But at the same time our identities are so complicated that we end up in the position of being forced to think about things that your average American might not. For example I grew up with people who would say they were part Cherokee, loads of people who would say that, but there seemed to be absolutely no connection to anything that I would personally recognize as native and people who obviously clearly were. And for a non-native that would be all about looking Indian in a way that’s completely formed by American media. But for me it has almost nothing to do with that. And how do you explain that to an outsider?

I often wonder what authors think when their young adult book is labeled “gritty.” Was that a term you expected to see applied to Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend and how do you generally describe your book?

Actually, it’s the other way around, I have never had any attention to write young adult literature. But what’s strange to me is that when something is written by or about a white male who is straight, it’s coming-of-age, but if it’s written by a woman or person of color or a queer person it’s young adult. And honestly my work is gritty but when my work is labeled vulgar or on the other side Pollyanna simply because there is an incredibly lazy mis-reading of the end of the novel, I feel like this has a lot to do with the fact that my main character is a woman and a minority and a Native person and there’s a lot of preciousness around those things.

I’m looking forward to reading a lot more of your work. You’ve written an adult collection of poetry and had short stories, poems and essays published in many journals. Was this a one time deal with young adult fiction? What drew you to writing for young adults?

Like I said, I don’t really write young adult fiction and I have never had any intention to write young adult fiction and I don’t really consider the novel young adult per se. My press labeled it for me, as literary/young adult crossover. I think that’s because the protagonist is 16 and young people are reading in record numbers so if the protagonist is young it’s going to be labeled that way. One of the people who reviewed my novel, a woman named Debbie Reese, who is just incredibly smart, when I asked her about this label because this is a lot of what she does is look at young adult fiction for native people and about native people, said that she felt like young adults deserve literature too. So though I have no particular interest in writing for any age category specifically, if I think about who I would love part of my audience to be it would be young people who need to see stuff like this, a mirror they’re not getting back in anything else.

When talking about diverse literature, many people refer to books that are mirrors and windows. Have there been mirror and window books that impacted you as a young adult or shaped your writing journey?

That’s funny that you use that word mirror because I was just using it above. Yeah definitely, when I was younger I read sci-fi and fantasy almost exclusively like I said above, and some horror as well – and those escape portals were incredibly important for me. I loved Piers Anthony and I loved Stephen King and I’ve started reading sci-fi again and literary fantasy, like Lev Grossman, whose magician series I love more than I can even say. But the missing factor for me was definitely literature that was a bit more of a mirror, so when I started reading people like Sherman Alexie, Junot Diaz, Langston Hughes, Jhumpa Lahiri, Richard Wright and Sandra Cisneros that took me in the direction that I absolutely needed to go.

Is there anything else that you wished I had asked like what is your favorite comfort food or something equally non-bookish?

Well, I can say that I generally talk about a couple things, like how Idaho Springs where the novel is set, being a hard place for me growing up as the mullet was an incredibly popular fashion choice and it happened to not be my fashion choice. And the fact that I generally ate lunch under the display case, reading my Dragon books, to get away from the mullets – who made it clear that they did not like me. And another aside would be that because my mother was a dancer and because my dad was an engineer, I love ballet and I love the hard sciences. Those are things I think people wouldn’t expect, reading my work.

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Interview with Coe Booth

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 3.16.19 PMWe welcome Coe Booth to the blog today. We featured her books here in September when her newest book, Kinda Like Brothers, had just been published. We appreciate this opportunity to learn a little more about her writing life.

What led you to writing stories featuring teens?

I’ve always wanted to write for teens. Even when I was in second grade I would write stories about fifteen year olds. Maybe I just couldn’t wait to become a teenager. Maybe I thought being a teenager meant automatic freedom. Well, live and learn!

As a writer, the teen years are full of inspiration. It’s the time of life when you’re in this in-between place, with so many conflicting feelings and desires, and so many fears and doubts, right when you’re being asked to make important decisions about your future. And then there are the relationships and all those firsts. It’s a very exciting time to write about.

The beauty of your realistic fiction is that it truly seems that these characters exist. How do you write them with such an authentic voice?

Thanks! I spend a lot of time trying to create believable characters, which is why I’m such a slow writer! I’ve always been fascinated with what drives people, how our thoughts and beliefs and experiences combine to make us our unique selves. That’s probably why I studied psychology, and it’s definitely why I write. It’s so much fun creating characters and then trying to figure out who they really are and how they got that way.

Before I started writing full-time, I counseled kids and families in crisis, which gave me a lot of insight into what people think and how they behave (and how often those two things seem to have no relation to one another!) When it comes to a character, I don’t really know her until I know what she thinks is missing from her life, what the hole is in her heart. Because then I know what she’s searching for, what’s driving her actions, even if she doesn’t make the connection. That’s when I get the aha moment!

When we featured you in an author spotlight, Lyn Miller-Lachmann commented, “I love Coe’s books and am especially impressed with how she made the transition from gritty YA novels to a sweet and inspiring, yet still realistic, MG.” Was it easy to make the transition to younger characters?

I thought writing for a younger audience would be a lot different than writing for teenagers. I actually thought it would be a little easier, but no, that turned out not to be true — at all! As I started writing Kinda Like Brothers and began figuring out the characters and their lives, I realized these characters had a lot of complexity, and writing about them wasn’t really much different than writing about older kids. But — and this is the tricky part — I had to figure out how to write about really heavy subjects in a way that younger kids would understand. So, in a way, writing a middle-grade novel adds another layer of challenge that’s not there with YA novels. It’s a fun challenge, though, and it’s something I’d definitely like to do again.

Are you planning to write more books set in Tyrell’s neighborhood?

I hope so! I really loved creating the neighborhood of Bronxwood and populating it with — well, interesting people. It’s been so much fun having characters carry over from one book to the other. Doing this also satisfies my curiosity about what certain characters are doing after the end of a book. So, yes, I’d definitely like to set another book in Bronxwood.

Who are some of your favorite YA authors?

That’s such a hard question — I have so many! I read everything by Rita Williams-Garcia, Matt de la Peña, Jacqueline Woodson, A.S. King, David Levithan (who’s also my editor!), E. Lockhart, and Libba Bray. These writers blow my mind with every new book!

coe

 

If you haven’t had a chance to read one of her books yet, get on it. To learn more about Coe Booth and her books, visit her website.

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